NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Daniel O'Keefe (1914-1971)
Dan O'Keefe pioneered in many areas of social work education and practice. He was the first social work military officer in the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army. He was the first Social Work Consultant in the Office of the Director of the newly established National Institute of Mental Health. He was the first Social Work Director at the Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health. He was the first Dean of the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work.
O'Keefe was born in Portsmouth, Ohio. He received his bachelor's of science degree from the University of Dayton in 1936 and his master's of science in Social Work from Catholic University of America in 1938. His first social work position was Executive Secretary in the Catholic Guidance Clinic in Cincinnati, Ohio from 1938 to 1939. He then became an instructor in psychiatric social work at Loyola University School of Social Work.
In 1940 he became Director of Social Work at the US Public Health Service Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. At that time this hospital was a general psychiatric hospital as well as a specialty hospital for drug addicts. From November 1941 to February 1946, he was in military service where he became known as one of the outstanding commissioned social workers in the service. Following World War II he was the first commissioned officer to establish the psychiatric social work branch within the Office of the Surgeon General. In 1946 he served for a brief time as Chief of the Social Services Division of the Veterans Administration. With the establishment of the National Institute of Mental Health, he returned to the Public Health Service and became the consultant in psychiatric social work in the Office of the Director. When the clinical center was established, he recruited for and developed a social work department and was its director from 1952 to 1961. During his years as Chief of the Social Work at the Clinical Center he was known for encouragement of staff to do independent research and to better articulate the contribution of social work to health research. During this time, he went back to the University of Minnesota where he completed work on his Ph.D. in 1955.
In 1961 O'Keefe accepted an Assistant Professorship in Clinical Social Work and was Director of the Division of Clinical Social Work at Stanford University. He was there until 1965 when he took the position of Director and Professor at the School of Social Work at Michigan State University. In 1967 he moved to Houston and there established the Graduate School of Social Work and remained Dean until his untimely death in 1971.
O'Keefe was active in the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers and later NASW. He served as a member of the NASW Board of Directors (1955-1956) and a vice-chairman and chairman of the Psychiatric Social Work Section (1957-1961). In California and in Texas he was a member of a number of state committees, commissions, and was a consultant to the California State Department of Mental Hygiene. He was also involved in local mental health groups.